The party confuses its status as a protest vote for total endorsement
A political movement that feels the wind in its sails can have a tendency to overreach, especially if it misinterprets the actual motivations of its voters. Marine Le Pen discovered this during France’s presidential elections last year, when voters found her positions on immigration appealing, but did not share her Euroscepticism.
With the upcoming elections to the European Parliament in 2024, it looks as if the German AfD is about to make the same mistake. In its programme for the election, the party calls for the ordered “dissolution” of the European Union, in order to fully embrace the “potential of nation-states and rebuild the bridge to the east.” To put it more provocatively, the AfD wants to orient Europe towards Moscow rather than Brussels or Washington.
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AfD leader Tino Chrupalla appears convinced that Right-wing parties in Austria and Hungary would support this undertaking, and in doing so shows a pretty shocking lack of understanding of how EU policies are constructed in these countries. After Greece and Poland, Hungary is the largest receiver of EU funds — and many of the quarrels between Viktor Orbán and the EU are driven by the Hungarian desire to remain eligible for money from Brussels.
It is therefore highly unlikely that Budapest — which has received significant exemptions from European sanctions on Russian oil — would support a dissolution of the European Union, not to mention the Russophilia of the AfD. Even Orbán, who likes to fire up the base with big talk about taking on EU bureaucrats, is not seriously considering leaving the bloc.
Just like Fidesz in Hungary, Austria’s Right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) knows that there is no real appetite to leave the EU. Despite an enduring Brussels-scepticism, 70% of Austrians still want to remain part of the EU, and only 9% think that Russia is a trustworthy partner.
Criticising the EU and its institutions has a long tradition among the continent’s Right-wing parties, and some of them are sincerely arguing for reform and for the redistribution of competencies between Brussels and its member states. But a dissolution — ordered or otherwise — is not a serious proposal from any of them. The AfD should be careful not to confuse its status as a preferred protest vote for a wholesale embrace of all its positions by the electorate. The main driver of its current impressive performance in the polls is a deep dissatisfaction with the sitting government and the lack of a genuine conservative party in Germany, not the desire for a political revolution.
Alice Weidel, Chrupalla’s co-leader in the party, has already pushed back against the dissolution idea, insisting that it was included in the election strategy “by accident” and that she does not support the position. Rather than clarifying her position on party policy, however, this instead demonstrates that the AfD is far from unified, with serious disagreement on fundamental issues. One is reminded of the history of the German Greens, who have also consistently struggled with their realist and fundamentalist wings. Ultimately, under Joschka Fischer, the realo-wing prevailed, making the party fit for office. Will the same happen with the AfD? Don’t rule it out.